Tag Archives: architectural practice

Not one-size-fits-all

Architecture requires a great many different kinds of intelligence to function. The typical office is divided up into groups of design, technology, and management. And even within these areas, there are many different specialties. Yet typically within education, especially at the undergrad level, we have a one-size-fits-all approach. All students are expected to respond to the same problems, and are assess on the same basis. Students with different kinds of intelligence are often penalized within this system, and we frequently these people are lost to the profession.

I see a lot of different kinds of student. I have started a kind of taxonomy, and right now I have five basic genera within the family of architecture. Of course, each genus can be broken down further into different species. The genera I have identified are the Artist, the Gearhead, the Theorist, the Administrator, the Politician, and the Architect. The Artist excels at making form and concept. The Gearhead excels at technology. The Theorist excels at history and philosophy. The Administrator excels at organization. The Politician excels at engaging people. The Architect is the rare intelligence that can combine the qualities of most of the other genera.

We have a magically diverse world filled with amazing creative potential, and as a professional training ground, we have to figure out how to engage them all. This is one of the reasons I love group projects.Many of my colleagues don’t like collaborative work because they feel that the students individually aren’t displaying their mastery. I understand their point, but when in architecture is anything done by the single lone genius (other than in Ayn Rand fiction)?

Ordinarily 1 + 1 = 2. But in collaborative work I think that there is a kind of exponential condition where the work isn’t twice as good, but 4x. The students seem to complement each other. One of the best teams I had were the dregs leftover when everyone else paired up. These two seemed mismatched, but in reality the strengths augmented each other to arrive at a great result. It was a “hot mess” no doubt, but a thoroughly committed one. When it came time for grading, I was going to give one student a higher grade than the other, because I thought he was driving the bus. But he stood up for his colleague, and said the other more than pulled his weight.

I’m as guilty as everyone else in perpetuating the one-size-fits-all. In many a studio I have taught I have privileged the artist and the architect. The hardest are the poor first year students who struggle valiantly, but don’t have the inherent design ability. And we lose these hard working souls to the discipline, simply because we can’t find a way to include them.

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Education and Practice

A complaint about schools of architecture crops up on the regular basis: the schools aren’t preparing graduates for the profession. I have long maintained that this is not the goal of education, though contemporary conventional economic theory would argue vociferously with me about that. To the professionals I like to point out that the Intern Development Program (with its minimum of three years of experience required post-graduation) was created to complete the work of educating an architect, and preparing her/him for the rigors of professional practice.

That all said, when I look at the practice today, especially in regard to green building, the level of numeracy and precision required is at odds with much of the focus of the education. This is painstaking and exacting and at times mind-numbing work, but it needs to be done. This kind of work seems to be very much at odds with the manner in which we educate students. I fully believe in a creative life, and that all people have a potential for self-actualization (well, most – there are some politicians, however…). But what if creativity is different for different people? The word “create” comes from Latin, and means simply to “make.” The idea of creativity has come to mean imaginative, inventive. Can we look at this desire to make in different ways? Can this not play out in normative ways, as well as the “inventive?” There are different types of students, and they develop into different types of practitioners. Some students need little direction. They are like asteroids hurtling through space with terrific momentum, and only need nudging to keep them from bumping into things. Others are excellent students, but require more direction and input. They may be less creative, but they are diligent. Our contemporary schools typically have one education path for the architect. This is especially the case with the undergraduate programs. Grad schools, on the other hand, are much better about greater program diversity giving more options for different personalities. However, many of these programs do not necessarily offer a career path to being an architect. Harvard has eight different courses of study for its master of design studies, but only one course of study for it’s master of architecture program – it’s path to licensure.

Large architecture firms typically have at least three different divisions: design, management, and technology. It would be worth our while to examine this condition, and begin to adapt our degree programs to acknowledge these different ways that individuals think and practice, without necessarily compromising our goals of higher order thinking.

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